We’ve all had our doubts about the effectiveness of our political system, but as you know, democracy can’t work without you. And Adventure Cycling’s advocacy for better bike travel can’t work without you either. You are part of a small but robust community of bike travelers whose passion for adventuring by bike is exactly why you’re reading this blog post – you care, and you want to take action to improve bike travel. And yes! You will be heard and it will make a difference.
So here are a few tips on how to be more effective when writing or emailing law and policy makers.
The most important step in taking action is to actually do it. Sometimes you may have the best of intentions to follow through but then doubt or anxiety can creep in and you put it off, or your week gets busy and you forget. I am a pro procrastinator so I am guilty of all of the above.
The best antidote is to send the email or make the phone call right away. This has three benefits: 1) you get it done and don’t have to worry about missing the deadline, 2) you don’t have to carry around the guilt of not following through, and 3) you can feel good about yourself.
You're most effective when you contact your own elected representatives, whether local, state or federal, since they only pay attention to their constituents (even if you didn’t vote for them). If you don’t know who they are we will typically provide a link to look them up by your address.
BUT, if the action involves contacting government agencies, like departments of transportation or tourism, Amtrak, a state park system or the National Park Service, then it doesn’t matter what state you’re from - go for it! Especially if you can speak to experience there as a bicycle tourist.
Keep your communication concise and start with your ask and most important points first. You don’t have to know everything about the issue and usually talking points are provided to help. Including your related personal experiences counts for a lot, so write or speak from the heart.
But save your rants for your social media echo chamber - anger, blaming, and bad language will immediately render you ineffective with any law or policy maker.
For congressional representatives, calling is the best tactic. A staffer will answer the phone and record your message or you can leave a voicemail. For state legislators, it varies by state and even district which tactic is most effective, so our advice is to ask your state bicycle advocacy group for guidance. But when the legislature is in session, email is probably your best bet. And emailing is definitely the best for contacting agency officials.
For all of the above, if you have more time and inclination, scheduling in-person meetings or showing up to public meetings is the MOST effective for being heard.
It takes time to feel comfortable communicating about issues, especially when calling. The first time I called my senator I worked myself up into a nervous panic and almost didn’t do it. But after I did, I felt a lot more confident the next time. You can write down what you want to say and practice beforehand. And with emailing, it only gets faster when you do it more often.